Written by Hazel Burke

Arts

Could Be Verse

Fancy getting stuck into a sonnet or cosy with a canzone but no idea where to start? In her regular column, our poetry *doctor (*she’s not a real doctor) Hazel Burke walks you gently through some of her favourites. This month she’s tickling your tastebuds with a modern performance classic.

Emily Dickinson illustration by Louise Boulter.

Emily Dickinson illustration by Louise Boulter.

Imagine if you had to lick it!
by Salena Godden

I have been doing this my whole life.
When I am hungover on a tube train or a bus
I stare at the most stomach turning churning things
and this voice inside my head says
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
that man’s shiny bald patch with scabby dandruff
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
three-day-old vomit gone hard on the pavement
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
the zit on the girl’s chin opposite
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
the tip of that man’s finger firmly rooted up his left nostril
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
that runny old dog shit
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
that drunk man’s piss in that doorway
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
those old Chinese takeaway noodles like maggots in the gutter by the bin
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
lick it like you mean to clean it
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
lick it like you really mean it
IMAGINE
and I don’t mean the tip but with the very back of your tongue
like the place that makes you retch if you touch it with a toothbrush
IMAGINE
all the people!
Imagine all the people…
licking them! all of them! licking them! all of them!
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
that pigeon’s stumped foot
IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT
that tramp’s cock!
I M A G I N E
I have been doing this all my life.
I find myself staring at the ugly and rotten
The rancid putrid essence
Until I gag and I am forced to look away,
It makes the journey go faster
And it gives me something
Else to be nauseous about…

Some people think that they aren’t clever enough for poetry, or that they don’t like poetry. If you’re one of those people, this month’s pick is for YOU. It is by poet, performer and all-round force of nature Salena Godden, so you are in good hands.

Writing poetry for a live audience means that however complex the ideas in Godden’s poems, she needs to communicate them in a way that grabs you at first hearing. Godden doesn’t shy away from weighty ideas – and I think there are big ideas in Imagine… – but it isn’t a poem that is ‘difficult’. You will understand all the words. It will make you smile, laugh, hum a John Lennon song, and go “Ewww.”

I love that the poem is bookended by a quiet start and a quiet finish. It makes a great contrast with the middle of the poem, which is made up of a list of disgusting things alternating in lines with a crazy voice encouraging you to ‘IMAGINE IF YOU HAD TO LICK IT’.

It’s a brilliant change of gear. From a wide shot of the poet on a train or the bus, we’ve zoomed inside their hungover mind and now we’re bouncing around from detail to disgusting detail, from ‘scabby dandruff’ to ‘runny old dog shit’. And all the time, the crazy voice wants us to LICK IT.

This is the thing that really hooks you into the poem. Godden could have written about being hungover and looking at these repulsive details, but it’s imagining licking them that really brings the poem to life. It’s one thing imagining sitting across from a girl with a zit on her chin, but if you have to imagine really licking that zit, it adds whole extra layers of sight, touch and taste to the poem.

Sometimes the voices go off on tangents in the way that voices in your head often do, like in this little section which is my all-time favourite Lennon cover:

IMAGINE
all the people!
Imagine all the people…
licking them! all of them! licking them! all of them!

The tangents, the grossness and the humour of the poem reminds me of how kids talk. It’s always trying to outdo itself in its repulsiveness, and it has a really playful, childlike feel. I’m sure children would adore the poem and can only think it’s the suggestion to imagine licking a tramp’s cock that has kept it off the GCSE syllabus.

Anyway, for us consenting adults, it’s a deliciously disgusting chance to really look at the world around us, and to practise switching on our imagination now and again. It’s easy enough not to do either of those things, but when you stop and think about it they are pretty important. Which, if you want to go away and mull on it, is quite a big idea.

Now let’s all imagine licking a pigeon’s stumped foot. Like we really mean it.

More Salena Godden

This poem is a bit of a Salena Godden classic, but not all her poems are like this one. Two of my own favourites are The Saturday Shift and My tits are more feminist than your tits.

The Saturday Shift is a warm, wise poem about death, life, pubs, sausage rolls and why it’s OK not to finish Jonathan Franzen articles. I think of it as the bastard child of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and The Royle Family. It’s in her book Fishing in the Aftermath and you can also read it on the And Other Poems blog.

My tits are more feminist than your tits is as hilarious as it is political. There’s a genius mix on Salena Godden’s Soundcloud and you can watch it on YouTube for a slightly different version.

Imagine if you had to lick it! is taken from Fishing in the Aftermath by Salena Godden, published by Burning Eye Books.
To see Salena Godden live, have a look at www.salenagodden.com or follow her @salenagodden on Twitter for upcoming gigs and festivals.

Read all of Hazel’s previous poetry columns here.

@Oxpecking

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Written by Hazel Burke

Hazel likes seed catalogues, maps and toast. She lives in Manchester. @oxpecking